Read This Week: Matthew 18
At that time, the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” – Matthew 18:1-4 NIV
Peter, James, and John had just been on the mountain with Jesus during the Transfiguration. They had seen the glory of God and been through something few human beings had ever encountered. They had an experience that should have infused passion, joy, and harmony into their community, yet the Bible tells us that it led to rank, file, and posturing about who was the greatest among them.
They got pulled into the human hierarchical view of life. This view asserts that the higher you are will translate into the most influence, significance, and greatness. The world’s philosophy is you are great if others are working for you, but the message of Christ is that greatness comes from serving others.
This brings us to Matthew 18. It is packed full of theological and practical teaching that can inform our lives at all levels. Not least of which is Jesus addressing the question of who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven? The answer to this particular question cuts to the heart of so many issues we face in life. The assertion that lowliness or humility makes a person great underwrites all the principles taught in the passages that succeed it. This statement from Jesus in verse 4 sets the tone for the rest of the chapter:
“Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”
Servanthood and humility are the prerequisites for a life that honors God on this earth. To take the position of a servant as Jesus did and be humble as a small child is to navigate all the nuances of the Christian life that expresses the heart of God to the world. These postures can prevent us from stumbling and causing others to be damaged by our choices (v. 6-9). These spiritual heart attitudes can empower us to stay in the pursuit of God and not wander away, but if another person wanders, humility will cause us to pursue them as the Lord pursued us (v. 10-14).
Servanthood to Christ and the humility of a child pave the way for dealing with sin in the church, resolving conflict and disputes in a Goldy manner (v. 15-20). These attributes lead to restorative justice and reconciliation among people who have erred and bring people back together in community. The lowly position tunes our hearts to compassion, forgiveness, and mercy for others lost on the wicked servant in verses 21-35. This idea of true greatness through assuming and aspiring to the lowest place in the kingdom is what the Lord wants.
May we not be concerned with the questions that preoccupied the disciples. May we be so intent on and interested in serving others and doing so from a position of humility that we forget the idea of status altogether. And may the Holy Spirit inspire and empower us to be involved in great things for the glory of God and know that it probably won’t have anything to do with the world’s standards of greatness. But as Jesus instructed, that is what will make it great.